Who should councillors listen to most?

Last night was a pretty bloody affair at Liverpool Town Hall. The public were well behaved – the Labour Party was not. Knowing that they had lost the argument about the sale of land and the people of South Liverpool, at least, do not support their wanton proposals to sell off the family silver Labour, in so far that they spoke at all, resorted to low insults for much of the time.

I and Green councillors were accused by our lovely Mayor of whipping up hysteria in South Liverpool. That was not an insult to them or me but it was an insult to the people of Liverpool. The 40 people in the public gallery were not hysterical but they were angry and sad. They felt that the decision was being rushed through and there was a total lack of consultation about the future of the Park.

That got me musing about two issues. What is the role of the councillor in looking at the use of assets like Parks and who should councillors listen to first their Party of the people?

I have now been a councillor for 30 years and first was elected in 1975. That gives me a perspective that many other councillors simply do not have. I believe strongly as a councillor that I do not own Liverpool; it is not in that context my City or the Lib Dems City or now a Labour City. I believe it is the people’s city and that they have in the short term given me a little bit of their power to do my best within the system on their behalf. That short term element should not conflict with our long term roles. When it comes to things like Parks; libraries and other precious buildings and other assets much loved by local people I think my role is as a Trustee for the future.

Already people born as I became a councillor are bringing up in their turn a new generation of Scousers. My job is to protect the City’s assets and ensure they are passed down the years for future generations. Every decade we have faced siren calls and actions by Labour politicians who do not accept that role; and every time they dispose of the people’s assets they diminish our City.

I have always been very clear about my priorities as a Councillor. My first concern is for the area that elected me; my second concern is for the City as a whole; and my third and last concern is for my Party. Of course the order changes in the month before an election because I honestly believe that my area will be better if I am elected (what is the point of standing if you do not believe that) and I believe that my City would be better run by the Lib Dems than other Parties (otherwise why be in a political Party).

Outside election time however I believe in pragmatism and not politics. Much of what councils do should be apolitical. Getting the bins emptied or looking after our green spaces should be done on a consensual and not a political basis. In Liverpool we have 6 council meetings a year. That’s where we can do the Political arm waving stuff (and I can do my fair share of that). That’s where we can grandstand. The rest of the time there should be rational discussion from people who listen to and respect each other and who genuinely want to achieve great things for our City.

There was a reasonable amount of that at a meeting also held yesterday to look at the implementation of a move to fortnightly bin collection. I believe that the wording of the council resolution which we supported was a move to consider a change to fortnightly collection after consultation. Labour believes that they have made the decision and are now only consulting about how it should be done. Apart from that members of all parties worked together to ensure that this move is made properly; that recycling is increased; that residents are genuinely listened to and their fears answered. That is how is it should be.
I know that yesterday a councillor did not vote with his conscience on this issue but supported the Party line. “What else could I do” he told me confident that I would not blow the whistle on him”.

Well I think that you have always got to be able to look the people who elected you in the eye. Most importantly you have to look at yourself in the mirror and measure your own performance against your own moral compass. In my 30 years I have voted against my Group probably no more than a dozen times. But I was never disciplined for ‘rebelling’ and in my Party I never will be. Providing it is done courteously; my rebellion does not conflict with a major tenet of my Party and people are informed in advance then that is both my right and my duty to my constituents. That is not true in other Parties – that’s one of the reasons why I stay in the only liberal party there is and why at the end of the day you will have to tear my Party membership card out of my cold, dead hand!

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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